By Revd Phil Wales
If we look back a year or so, who among us could have predicted what would have happened during 2020? Of course, we are all hoping that 2021 will be a much better year. This hope isn’t only for ourselves or those around us, but for the whole world. As we travel through January and the season of Epiphany there are many reasons to feel encouraged. For example, the large scale vaccination programmes now underway (in some but not yet enough countries) mark an enormous leap forward in such a short period of time. There will continue to be challenging days in front of us and our leaders and the media urge us to keep our resolve. Hope is on the horizon, we are told. Yet the way forward is far from straightforward or certain.
For many of us, hopefulness about the coming year often finds an outlet by deciding to make a new year resolution. Committing to make a change for the better is a good thing and the start of a year can act as focal point; it can channel our hopes and focus our enthusiasm. But, I admit, many of the new year resolutions I have made in the long, distant past rarely, if ever, led to the change I had been planning. Often, it was as though there was something pulling me back to the unwanted habits and routines that my unsustainable burst of mid-winter zeal was trying to free me from.
This Epiphanytide, more so than previously, I have found myself reflecting on what the Magi did after they had paid homage to the Christ child. We know that their encounter with the infant Jesus transformed them. And, as these wise men (Gentiles) represent us, so the message of the Epiphany is that we too can encounter God. With this comes the life changing realisation that God’s limitless love is for each of us. So what exactly did these wise men do afterwards? All we know, as St. Matthew tells us, is that they chose to return home by a different road; a road on which their encounter with God could never be taken from them. We too can travel a different road this year.
Rather than sticking with a path on which we rely on our own resourcefulness and bundle up our energy into making a ‘once and for all’ start of the year resolution, there is a different route. This is the path of knowing, experiencing, that we are each loved by God. This road is the one where hope moves from being ‘on the horizon’ to being ‘ever present’ – all around us, however difficult the days ahead may yet become.